cold case investigation


It’s one of the biggest unsolved crimes of the 20th century. Who was D.B. Cooper, the infamous skyjacker who stole $250k, jumped from a jet plane and has eluded the FBI for nearly 50 years?

In this episode, Glynn Cosker interviews Erik Kleinsmith who is part of a renowned cold-case investigation team that believes it has identified the real D.B. Cooper. Learn more about the team’s investigation strategy, part of which uses intelligence-driven data analysis to uncover details and make connections that point to only one man.

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Read the Transcript:

Glynn Cosker: Hello and welcome to the podcast. I’m Glynn Cosker, your host, and my guest today is Erik Kleinsmith, who is the Associate Vice-President for Business Development In Intelligence National snd Homeland Security and Cyber for American Military University.

He is a former Army intelligence officer with vast experience in intelligence, counter-intelligence, national security and similar fields. He is also the author of the 2020 book, “Intelligence Operations, Understanding Data, Tools, People and Processes.” So how are you today Erik?

Erik Kleinsmith: Great, Glynn. Thanks for having me.

Glynn Cosker: Thank you for coming along and joining us. That resume is quite impressive. I only gave out just the one paragraph version, but I know that you’ve done so much stuff in your great career.

One of those things is to do with the famous case, which is coming up on its 50th anniversary next year and that is the D.B. Cooper skyjacking, which occurred in November of 1971, and to date, it’s the only unsolved airplane hijacking or skyjacking in U.S. history.

But I think I know you well enough to know that unsolved means it has to be solved, or at least that’s the way I am about unsolved things. So Erik, why don’t you give the audience the low down on what exactly happened on November 24, 1971.

Erik Kleinsmith: If you had just asked me even 10 years ago, why would I ever get involved in this case, as somebody who comes from the intelligence side it’s a very different change to then go from intelligence, which is more predictive analysis of what’s going to happen in the future versus investigative analysis, which is really trying to recount what had happened in the past.

So, just as a quick overview of the case, this was an individual who had boarded a flight, Northwest Airlines flight, November 24, 1971. He wrote Dan Cooper on his boarding pass as he boarded. The term D.B. Cooper, came from the first media reports and they just went with it after that. There really was no record of “D.B.” written on any of the boarding documents.

Partway through the flight, he notified the flight attendant and said that in his suitcase he had a bomb and he demanded to be landed. The airline landed the plane and I think it was up in the Seattle Tacoma area.

He demanded $250,000 in cash, as well as two parachutes. That’s one of the interesting parts is, why would he ask for two parachutes when obviously he’s just going to jump by himself? Well he did not want a parachute that had been rigged. So if they sent him one that was rigged, he quite possibly could have put that onto one of the crew members and forced them out the plane with a bad parachute. So he did that with specific planning, knowing that that was kind of his insurance. When the plane took off the second time it was just him and the flight crew.

He then told the plane to take off and head toward, I think it was either Mexico or part of the Caribbean, which, as they started their flight plan and it was just into that second flight where he had told the crew, “I want everybody up front.”

As the flight attendants were up front and the pilot, they noticed a noticeable shift in the weight of the aircraft almost as either hitting an air pocket and they understood that was probably the moment that he had dropped. Now for this type of aircraft, I can’t remember the actual nomenclature, but it was the type that had a back entrance. So he dropped the ramp to the back of the aircraft.

He had them fly at just over stall speed, at a certain height. It was obviously that it is as close to the conditions he could get to jump out. Then he was able to do that and jump. And again, wiped down the area in the back so that there was no evidence or fingerprints of anything that he had touched on the aircraft.

That’s the last time anybody saw him and a lot of the conspiracy theories went from, he died on impact. He never made it down. Or he never survived the landing and all of that.

Glynn Cosker: It’s interesting, a theory about him not surviving the landing or dying on impact, to me, there would be something that they would find. I mean, cadaver dogs searching and all sorts of methods to try and find basically a corpse with a parachute on his back.

That to me is one of the least believable concepts. Some of the younger listeners on this podcast might be a little bit shocked to hear that you can just walk onto a plane with no security screening and actually have a real bomb in your suitcase. Because he did have dynamite in his suitcase. Of course back in 1971, there was no screening. It was basically like riding a bus, except you’re in the air.

Erik Kleinsmith: What’s interesting is the first real recorded successful hijacking of an aircraft from a terrorist standpoint was only three years earlier in 1968 and it was a hijacking of an El Al flight from Israel. El Al has since changed their security measure that has since been successful in their airlines for the Israelis. There’s been some others, the Black September group and the Dawson’s Field hijacking, where they were able to get several aircraft all at once and then blow them up in a nondescript airfield in Sierra.

All of that was taking place in the late 60s, early 70s. But in the U.S., that wasn’t even entered into our lexicon that hijacking or skyjacking or any kind of terrorist type or a ransom event would take place. This was really the first of its kind for our U.S. law enforcement to deal with as well.

And, obviously, this was an FAA case and then picked up by the FBI, but one of the frustrations that we had, even when we’re doing our investigation as a cold case, is the same group within the local FBI field office, that handled cold cases was the same team that worked missing and exploited children.

So I mean, what’s your priority, a live human being that has been abducted this week or somebody’s child, or a 50-year-old case that didn’t kill anybody and only asked for that amount of cash? I mean, that’s one of the reasons why we felt also, it just wasn’t solved because it was never a priority when you line it up against obviously more important live cases that were ongoing.

Glynn Cosker: Right, I suppose that’s understandable, but at the same time, it’s one of the biggest mysteries that we’ve had in law enforcement over the last 100 years.

So why don’t you give us a little bit of info about the immediate aftermath. I mean, the authorities came in, the FBI, what was it that they found on the flight and what kind of physical evidence did they have right after that flight landed and all these events had just taken place?

Erik Kleinsmith: Well, it was interesting and this is outlined in the first documentary that our team did for the History Channel in 2017, they go over a lot of the details. They found that there was very little physical evidence that was available to them, going on the aircraft later.

In fact, the flight attendant, and again, this gets to another point later on I’ll get to, but the flight attendants themselves even had a hard time describing what he looked like. Part of that was just from the psychological shock.

The thing about cold case investigations, and this is what we’re finding, because I’ll tell you right now, I am on several cold cases, because of this one. We’re seeing the same pattern over and over and that it is very hard, near impossible to solve a cold case by recreating the previous investigation that had already been made, because what you’re doing is you’re working yourselves along a timeline.

You’re saying, “These are all the things we know that happened up until the crime was committed.” After that, we don’t know but we have all these different branches of things that could have happened. Now let’s take a look at each one of those and see if that’s right. The problem is, it’s hit or miss at that point, because your leads dry up. Again, that’s why the case goes cold.

For this case, as we got into the investigation, we were actually given information about who the person was and that’s the start point of our investigation is we took the name of the person and we started to work that backwards to either confirm or deny that person.

If you can immediately deny and say, “No, this doesn’t line up. Whoever gave us this story was a kook,” or whatever and it’s case closed. We didn’t solve it. But for this one, the person that we identified, too many things started falling into place.

Our team lead is a guy named Tom Colbert and he works as an investigative reporter and a producer of several law enforcement shows. He’s had a wealth of experience and so the initial tip-off to Cooper’s real identity didn’t come from him just diving in and saying, “Today, I think I’m going to be a conspiracy theorist and find out who this guy is.”

It was on another investigation that he was running, when he was investigating a heroine drug triangle between Las Vegas, Seattle and Los Angeles. As he was reporting and talking to different folks, it was then that one of his sources fingered and says, “I’ll tell you, one of the guys that you’re looking at is the guy that has told me that he’s D.B. Cooper.”

He says, “No kidding?” He gave up a guy who his name was Dick Briggs, John Richard Briggs or Dick Briggs. As Tom started his investigation, really working solo, he identified that it wasn’t Dick Briggs, who was D.B. Cooper, he denied it for him by looking at some of the evidence that was available, but it was his friend and very close associate, a guy named Robert Rackstraw.

All of a sudden as he was looking at that point, and that’s when for him, and he was using old time gum shoe reporting, beating the street, talking to folks, nefarious to legitimate conversations, finding out information and all the pieces were pointing towards Rackstraw and that’s when he called me.

That was in 2011. So we’ve been working this for nine years. On the 40th anniversary of the jump is when we started, or when I started in it.

Glynn Cosker: That would have been late 2011. Now so you’ve just named a gentleman, Robert Rackstraw. Now could you give us a bit more detail?

I know that there was some other suspects that the FBI had on their list. There was Ted Mayfield and Richard McCoy, Jr., but this particular person, there was a photograph or composite sketch that the FBI did in 1971 and many people have probably seen it and not even realized it. They’ve seen it and they recognize it, but perhaps didn’t make the connection that this photo fit this composite sketch was D.B. Cooper.

But Robert Rackstraw, I mean, it’s almost as if he sat for the sketch. There’s a photograph of him that’s out there in the public domain, that looks exactly like this composite sketch. I mean, it could be one of those apps that sort of turns your photograph into a sketch. I mean, that’s how accurate this thing looks.

Of course, you can’t just go on that as being the evidence that he’s the guy. So you said you’ve been working on it for that many years. Tell me sort of what went on from 2011 onwards, that sort of honed in on Rackstraw as the guy.

Erik Kleinsmith: The neat thing about how Tom approached it is I was only one of several people that he called. He was able to, from his years of experience of doing other investigations, he had a whole litany of folks that were experts in different areas.

So the first time that he called somebody that had an intelligence background to do analysis of all the pieces, my approach was more of a holistic support to them. His frustration was that he had built so much data and at the time he brought me in, he had already had, I want to say, 50 to 60 pages just worth of his investigative notes as he was putting them together.

He was going to various law enforcement talking to different folks and he was plopping this large document on their desk and who is going to read that? No one. One of the things that came to me for was to find a way to portray this in a more accurate manner.

At the time I was running the U.S. Army intelligence training program for individual soldiers within the military. I had a program of about 150 instructors I was in charge of, but one of the things we did is we did teach a lot into the data mining tools, link analysis, time event analysis, that kind of thing.

So I took the dossier that he had given me and I handed it to one of my link analysis instructors. The guy was David D’Alessio, a fantastic guy, former drill sergeant for the Army out of Pennsylvania. I said, “Alright, put something together and we’ll start playing with it. Throw the information in a link analysis chart.” He came back in about a half an hour and he goes, “I don’t want to work on this anymore.”

I was like, “What’s the problem?” He’s like, “This guy is bad. This guy has killed people.” I was like, “Yeah, I forgot to tell you, there’s a bunch of other things that are tied to this guy.”

So we got through it. I talked him through it. I was like, “Look, you’ll see a lot of other things.” And that’s one of the reasons why I believe that he never came forward.

Once we had this link chart done, there were so many neat things that we were able to show with this chart and clear up. It’s what you do when you’re doing data mining, when you’re doing visualization of data.

You’re taking those 60, 70 pages worth of documents, instead of having to read them you’re visualizing them. So you’re seeing all of that in a link chart, very complex chart that we ended up with.

It actually showed us a lot of different things that we went back to Tom and said, “You know what, you really need to start talking about this person, or you need to start asking these folks these questions, because this is the gap that we’re seeing in the chart. Or this is a new lead, that if you read through the document you’re not going to pick out. But when you can visualize it, you’re going to pick that out in a second. This is a person that is probably tied to this other person or whatever.” That’s the whole beauty of doing that kind of analysis.

So, once we gave that chart back to him, Tom and another investigative reporter did a cold approach and actually they filmed it as they approached him. First they came to him, the guy was working in a shipyard in San Diego at the time. He owned a yacht called Poverty Sucks.

They told him that we were just doing a documentary, that kind of thing. But then they came back the next day and they handed him the chart that we had made. He looked at that chart and just sat there and stared and then just started just picking it out.

And Tom was walking him through it. It was like, “Well, that’s you, right?” He said, “Oh yeah, that’s me.” It was, “Oh boy, you got Dick Briggs there.” “Yep, that’s him, that’s him over there.” He started verifying different pieces.

But again, he could not come forward and say that he was the guy. So, Tom was able to get as much information as he could. He did pick up DNA evidence, because he had thrown a water bottle that he was drinking from away into the trash and so he added that to his bevy of information.

But what became some of the key pieces is that Tom was able to dig up information on what happened after he landed, after the jump. That part has not really come out yet. There’re some articles about that, that Tom had talked about if you go to the website dbcooper.com, that’s his website, it’s all the information that he has that’s lined up there. It’s linked to his book, “The Last Master Outlaw.”

But what they ended up doing, and again, this was in 2017, was they gathered a team of local folks that he was working with out in California, they went up into the hills, and based upon the fact that somebody was waiting to pick him up that was a small aircraft pilot, a charter flight was waiting to pick him up.

Once he landed, he had to walk, I think, less than a mile from where he landed down to a small remote airstrip and he was picked up from that aircraft taken to another aircraft, did a couple of jumps and was finally was taken to where he had a car to drive away with everything.

So what Tom did is he took part of our team, they went up into the hills of Northern California and they started digging the areas where the witnesses said that this is where the guy came from. They started digging and they found a piece of the parachute. It was actually the canvas portion of the parachute that kind of covers up when you open the parachute up, it’s for the housing of the parachute itself. It was a piece of canvas, and it lasted for 50 some years.

They handed that over to the Bureau, and again, we were able to identify that this is the type of parachute. It was the exact part that it came from. This is the exact parachute. This was the same parachute that he was given.

These guys would never have been able to go into the millions of square miles of wilderness of Northern California unless every piece of information they had about when he landed and when he picked up and where he walked out of the woods from to this remote landing strip.

If none of that was true, they never would have found this piece of the parachute. So, that one physical piece validated almost every part of that and because it validated that part, the rest of the story of this guy’s life started to fall into place as part of that.

To me, from when I was doing the analysis portion of it, all these different areas were added on after we finished creating this chart and that started putting the pieces together.

Glynn Cosker: Wow. I mean, just listening to that, it sounds amazing. It sounds like a novel almost. It’s the way you are describing these things, especially the link chart. Now you showed me the link chart. I got a glimpse of it.

Just to describe it to our listeners, it’s basically a very huge poster- sized flow chart, and correct me if I’m wrong, of all the different pieces of evidence and it’s a timeline and everything, just in your mind and in Tom Colbert’s mind, it all points to this guy Robert Rackstraw as being the guy.

Like I said earlier, there are many different people that the FBI were looking at, and they went, the FBI back then, and even now perhaps, or over the years, over the last 50 years, they had a certain way of doing things. Like you said at the beginning, that’s old.

You’re not going to solve this by taking those case files, looking at them and, “Let’s just try this again.” Because that’s just going to get you to the same roadblocks. But what you did, or what your team did, or Thomas Colbert, was just attack it from a whole different angle.

Let me just say, there are a lot of conspiracy theories out there about D.B. Cooper. I mean, not to be too blunt, but there are a few chuckleheads out there that they have a conspiracy theory about everything.

But you guys are legit and I want our audience to know that. I mean, you guys are one of the premier teams that looked into this. You don’t get a History Channel program and a book, and there’s some street cred with you guys and I want to emphasize that, because there are a lot of theorists out there and some of the theories are quite crazy.

But what you’ve said is that he survived the jump and he went about his business. You mentioned the DNA when Tom sat down and spoke to him. Was there DNA that was gathered in 1971? I know that he smoked a pack of cigarettes on that flight and they collected some of those cigarette butts.

Erik Kleinsmith: Right, and I think they were able to pull DNA from it. The problem is, and it’s not just this case, is there are a lot of folks in law enforcement have a sense of frustration when you have to work with the FBI. I can’t remember, just talking to somebody recently on a separate case, they had renamed the letters FBI was, something like one way information.

So it they’re actively working the case and you present them with more information, they’ll take it and they won’t tell you anything. If they’re not working the case they won’t tell you anything.

So it’s a very one-way street and it’s a culture thing more than anything else. It’s just again, as you’re trying to protect the integrity of your own investigation, the last thing you want to do is leak out information that says, “Yeah, we think this is the guy or not, or something like that.” I understand it. I get that.

The problem was that in the middle of this investigation, and again, the same week that this History Channel documentary aired, the Bureau closed the case and said, “This is no longer an active case.” All that did was just throw open the door for a lot of more questions from there.

So the lawyer that we had on our team filed a FOIA, or a Freedom of Information Act. So if the case is closed, that means it’s no longer an active investigation, therefore, you can ask for that information via this method. It has to be done through the court process, so our lawyer that worked on the case, actually his name is Mark Zaid, and Mark Zaid is actually the same lawyer that represented the whistleblower for the Ukrainian scandal last summer and that went all the way through the impeachment of Donald Trump.

As we started trying to get more information about what they knew and what they had, we found more documents, found more eyewitnesses. One of the reasons, and again this is our theory and this is what we’re pushing forward as we’re shopping around another documentary for this, is we think that the reason why the FBI stopped investigating is because he was an asset to another organization, the Central Intelligence Agency.

This was back from his time in Vietnam. He was a warrant officer in the U.S. Army during Vietnam. He was helicopter pilot and his mission that he flew was that the U.S. Army would put several helicopters in the air during a fire fight or a battle and these were direction-finding helicopters, so that if somebody was firing a mortar round or any kind of indirect fire, they would be able to use several helicopters to triangulate from the acoustics of the blast and picking up the trajectory of the rounds as they were coming, and to be able to identify where those were being fired from. Now we have different technology that obviously it’s a generation ago, but that’s the way they did it in Vietnam.

So he was flying those missions as well as another mission called Left Bank, which it’s included in Tom’s book. He shared the same base as the CIA that was running the Air America operations. So we have lots of strong indicators and some evidence that he was flying Air America on the side.

We think that his relationship with the CIA extended into the 80s with the Iran-Contra flights, and that’s just pieces that again, without revealing, I’m not revealing any classified information or anything like that, but the standard procedure that is if the FBI is looking at this guy and think that, “Hey, this might be the guy.” The next thing you know you’re running up into another organization who says, “You can’t touch him, he’s ours.”

There’s a huge classification issue. We know 70 years from now when they declassify all kinds of different records of the time, and this could be 20 years from now or whenever, you’ll see that come out. That’s one of the reasons we think the case was never solved was that it was not meant to be solved, because of his relationship with the other part of the government.

Glynn Cosker: So it’s interesting to me that after this hijacking took place, there were countless different theories about what happened and why. If there is a why, have you looked into why somebody would want to do this? I mean, there are other ways to sort of solicit $200,000 without jumping out of an airplane.

Erik Kleinsmith: Well, and that’s the thing, that goes back to what was he pissed off at? As we looked into his background, we had learned that he was actually released from the military with less than honorable discharge, because he had lied about much of his record. So he lied that he had two bachelor’s degrees, which was a requirement for a warrant officer and even company-grade officer, lieutenant status on up. So that’s part of why he was removed.

That kind of crashed his life right at the beginning, because he was ejected from the military. So that’s what we felt was his reason on why when they say, “Why are you pissed off?” “Yeah, I’m pissed off at a lot of things.” But several other things that he was involved with during his life, lots of other, I want to call them grifting operations or that kind of thing, that he was doing from time to time.

We think again, that’s another reason why it fit his profile or his signature, however you want to say. But it also showed one of the reasons why he didn’t want to come forward and that’s one of the things I first went back to Tom is like, “You’re never going to get this guy to admit it, because if he admits this he’s going to have to own up to all these other things that he had done during his life.”

Now, unfortunately, he passed away last summer in 2019, and in the time before he had passed away, we know that he was in active negotiations with Tom Colbert through Tom’s lawyer, to actually have him come forward. And the deal Tom was trying to work with him was to explain to him is, “You didn’t kill anybody. It was not that big of a crime. At your age, you may do six months to a year, maybe some other at-home restrictions, but you’ll never have to pay for a drink the rest of your life, because of the cult following that’s behind that.” But we still could not get him to come forward.

Again, he’s spent his entire life circling back around there. At times, we know from folks that he would brag about and say, “Yes, I was him.” But then, when anybody seriously talked to him, he would change his demeanor and change his mind.

One of the big indicators we got, this is one of the things we most recently came out from is, he wrote several letters to different newspapers and to the FBI after he jumped, he wrote six of them. It’s only been recently that we had one of our, again, another one of the contacts of Tom Colbert, was able to get a code breaker to take a look at these letters and he had been pouring over them for weeks and he broke the codes that were hidden within each of these six letters, to the point where in the last letter, he finally signed his name essentially saying who he was.

And again, writing it in codes that this guy was able to extract from the letters themselves. But he also said if anybody, I can’t remember exactly the phrasing, but he said that, “If I am caught, this is my name. I am CIA.” That’s one of the pieces how we linked that to him is he just said that if he ever got caught, contact the CIA. I think it was his belief that they would take care of him.

Glynn Cosker: Interesting. So, this expert looked at these letters that D.B. Cooper, of course the pseudonym that he went by, he wrote these letters and this expert was able to see links in between each letter. Basically, if I was to read the letter, I wouldn’t see anything, but this person was an expert in code cracking, so to speak, and he saw a pattern in each of these letter, which basically solidified who the guy was.

Erik Kleinsmith: For anybody else it may have been difficult, but this guy came back and said, “The reason why I was able to break this is, this is the standard code they used for training in the Army at the time.” When, and again, our code breaker was in the military the same time, this is where he learned it. He goes, “This is the basic code that they were used as a training piece. This is what he was using.” So it was not hard for him to crack it once he identified that there were codes in there.

A lot of them, what really tagged him was that there were several number combinations within the letter that just did not make sense. They just didn’t fit in. That’s when he started pouring over it to try to figure out what it was to decrypt a lot of these things and do that.

So again, it was another piece of information. Again, all of this was handed back to the Bureau and from our perspective is once it was handed over it was handed into a black hole and we never heard anything about it or saw anything about it again.

Glynn Cosker: Right, well, there’s plenty of people at the Bureau weren’t even born when this event took place, and like I said earlier, they probably get so many of these inquiries a month.

Erik Kleinsmith: And at this point, it’s really no longer a crime. It’s more of a historical research from our standpoint.

Glynn Cosker: And it needs to be solved. I mean, it’s like Amelia Earhart going missing. That’s another example of something that was an unsolved case, but it doesn’t mean that you’re still not interested and you don’t want to find out the truth.

Now let me ask you, during this whole investigation and finding the piece of the parachute, et cetera, were there any other suspects that you came across that you were able to eliminate, or how did you hone in specifically?

Erik Kleinsmith: It really wasn’t a method of putting up a list of the usual suspects and then going through and investigating each of them and eliminate him. Once we had gotten this, it was really more of an effort to say either this guy is the guy, or the case again is wide open.

That’s where the entire investigation focused on either confirming or denying different pieces. Again, I hit this one with a ton of skepticism and we’ve had some long conversations and long meetings where we were tearing through this data. I was like, “Wait a minute, you can’t throw this one out. You have to have something that backs this piece up.”

So there was lots of skepticism going into this. Because you don’t want to have a cold case team made up of a bunch of conspiracy kooks.

That’s just a waste of my time, a waste of anybody else’s time. It’s not worth doing that. The veracity of this investigation was key the entire time, to put this together.

That’s why the code breaker was instrumental. Again, we ended up with a team of 45 individuals. All of them were experts: former law enforcement, former bureau members, active crime scene investigators, that are still in the business. We brought in folks all over the place.

But it was tough to look at this guy. At some point, he’s had some 22 different fake identities. He’s had several career jumps. He’s had multiple contacts, even posing as a millionaire Swiss entrepreneur living in a northern Oregonian town saying that he was going to spread all kinds of money around town and everything else. Then he took the name at that point of Norman de Winter.

We knew from that point that why if we did research on that part, the reason he took that one is he took it from the name Dick Winters who was the company commander of Echo 501st Infantry during the Band of Brothers during World War II.

So he took that name because he knew who he was and he knew his history and that became kind of his persona during that one period of his life after the jump. I mean the guy’s story is just so fascinating of one thing after another that he had done that I want to say, to divert the system and carve out a life for himself using a unique pattern.

We’ve got photos of him wearing a lieutenant colonel’s uniform with all kinds of fake badges. Or not fake badges, but obviously the rank we couldn’t attribute to him and all these things. We had to tear this uniform apart from this photo. It was just like, “No, he didn’t do this. He didn’t do this. There’s no way he could have done that.” Again, it was just another chapter of then, this guy was grifting his entire life.

Glynn Cosker: Because some of the other suspects that they’ve had over the years, the evidence pointing at them is not as strong as Robert Rackstraw. The fact that he had a record that after this 1971 incident, he continued to almost be a fake. Like you said, he had 22 different identities, he tried to fake his own death. He lived all over the place.

I mean, to me, and I don’t know as much about it as you do, but his credibility is not exactly 100% stellar here. I mean, he sounds like his whole life was a fake or a joke. Not a joke, but it was a lie basically. So how do you believe anything he says?

Erik Kleinsmith: We got to the point, and I say this over and over, we got to the point with our investigation where I was under belief that if this guy didn’t do it, O.J. did it. It’s just, there was too many things that were in there.

For intel, we don’t have to have something that’s provable in a court of law for us to intelligence analysis. We’ve got five or six things that says somebody is a bad dude, we can go forward with our analysis to wherever it points and say this guy is a bad dude.

But from the legal standpoint, you need to take into consideration all the exculpatory information, mitigating information, anything that exonerates this person. All of those have to be argued against.

But we got to the point where we handed the Bureau hundreds of pieces of evidence to include the DNA, to include these other pieces, all these things that we had learned about him. That’s where it stands right now.

As the History Channel did this documentary in 2017, he was still alive, so it was a two-parter. And even after we watched it, it was like, everything was great up until the last 15 minutes and then it was like a deliberate attempt by the producers of that show to completely obfuscate and muck up the investigation and discount it and say, “you don’t know what you’re talking about,” and then leave it very open ended.

Tom Colbert, he was very shocked and burned by the documentary itself. I said, “You know why they did that, because they didn’t want to get sued.” Because he was still alive. He was suing Tom Colbert, because the documentary had given him a heart attack literally, when it aired. He was suing Tom Colbert and the investigative team for a billion dollars.

Glynn Cosker: The production company was probably thinking, “Uh oh. I don’t want him coming after us.” But the point is on all of that, was that you guys did some excellent research and not just over a couple of months. I mean, it was over years and years of painstakingly going through every piece of evidence until you were able to prove it, in effect.

It is a little troubling that you have effectively proven it, in my mind. Our listeners can go and look at the book and probably find that documentary and you said it was dbcooper.com. Dbcooper.com is the website that Tom Colbert has, where there’s lots of information.

Erik Kleinsmith: You know what’s interesting about this, Tom was getting ready to close this. He’s talking to different folks about some documentary deals that kind of thing. In the middle of it, we had somebody call us from out of the blue and says, “I’ve got another case for you.” I can’t talk about the case, because it’s still ongoing, but it’s one of those where it’s just as notorious as this one.

But again, it was because somebody said, “I have a final piece to this other puzzle, do you guys want to pick this one up?” So we picked it up and we’ve been working it actively this summer, during the pandemic and everything else. It was just in the middle of the summer that we got another call from somebody else. This actually came through one of our faculty members in our criminal justice department, Jennifer Bucholtz.

She wrote an article about doing cold cases, because she as a private investigator, as one of her many jobs, outside of our university, she was contacted by somebody who says, “Hey, I’m working another case.” And she wasn’t sure who to turn to in the school, and immediately the folks that knew me said, “You need to talk to Erik.”

So her and I got together and I got together with her source. I got her source and Tom Colbert together and low and behold, we had a third case that we are now actively working, to the point that we think we know where to look for missing persons.

Right now we’re actively seeking out some DNA to link a person to another crime. It became one of those things where this methodology has just proven itself to me personally three times and to Jen and to Tom several more times on other cases, as we work within our school.

Program Director for our Criminal Justice program, Dr. Chuck Russo, we are now working together to create a cold case group as a fraternity or club within our university.

Now if you look at the average age of our students are 33 years old. That means they’re in the workplace. And we’re going to limit it. Obviously we’re limiting it to graduate students and alumni.

But you know that as you have these graduate students, these folks are active investigators. We have a huge footprint in law enforcement, a huge footprint in intelligence and security.

So we’re now exploring the use of crowdsourcing as a method to solve some of these cold cases. It’s just really now coming up with a structure of how do we herd all these cats? How do we have a no-kidding rational method for nominating a case, a rational method for having a case manager, a deputy case manager, chair that through? And then like a transfer committee that says, “I think we have enough here and we’ve done enough devils advocacy, we’ve done enough trials on it, that we now think we have enough that we can transfer this back to law enforcement to assist them.”

Now it’s a very unique concept. There’s only one or two other schools that’s even attempting something like that, but with the size of our school being 100% online, we could possibly get a huge set of involvement on working several cases.

Now there’s I think what, 25,000 unsolved murders within the U.S. There’s 1,000 new cold cases that emerge every year, or cases that go cold every year, obviously for some significant attacks or crimes that take place.

Law enforcement just does not have the time to actively keep continuing to pursue these. But what is out there is you’ve got a whole bevy of criminal justice students all throughout the U.S. and the world and you have retirees who may not physically be on the beat, but have the mental capacity to continue to work part-time at something to do what their life has already been dedicated to, solving these crimes.

They still have the skills and demeanor and understanding in how to work them. So that’s the potential here of using what we have available and using crowdsourcing to go after some of these cases is enormous.

Glynn Cosker: It is enormous. You mentioned Jen Bucholtz, she’s been a guest of mine on this podcast. We talked about surveillance on one of them and we talked about cold cases on the other one and how they’re using forensic genealogy to track down suspects in cold cases.

To me, a cold case it’s never frozen. There are ways to defrost that cold case and get it back into the public view. Of course recently with the genealogy side of things, we saw the Golden State Killer was identified and that was a case that went back obviously into the 70s as well. But the point is, it gives some closure to people who were affected.

For the FBI or the authorities to say, “Oh, it’s just old news,” I know that there wasn’t any shooting involved, or there was no murder involved in this case, but people they want the truth. Every cold case that’s out there can be solved and to me, this entire case is so fascinating to me that we’ve gone this long and have no conclusive evidence, or at least official evidence of who the person was.

You did a little tease earlier about a couple of other cases that you are going to be looking at soon. I know that you can’t say much about it right now, I’m sure, but I’m excited to find out eventually what that is, because if you do the same sort of true diligence and the work that you guys did on this one, whatever it is you’re trying to solve, I’m sure that you will solve it.

Erik Kleinsmith: And part of the reason why we’re kind of keeping a lid on it is, one, we do think there are some physical locations that have not been disturbed yet and so talking about it would just open it up to everybody with a shovel going out there and digging some place.

At the same time, in both cases that we’re looking at, most of the folks that were involved were no longer alive. But those who are alive, out of the respect to the families of the suspects as well as the families to the victim, the last thing we need to do is go out there and trumpet that as some big media story for personal attention or gain.

When it’s really about again, yes, we get a reward that we’ve been able to solve a crime from an ego or moral standpoint, but the real reason why we’re doing that is that there’s the family members, they’ve been suffering for their entire lives, either with the knowledge that their loved one was the killer or that their loved one was killed or disappeared and nobody saw them or whatever.

It’s that kind of thing that we think about more than anything else. That’s always in the back of your mind and when it’s not, you should stop doing what you’re doing.

Glynn Cosker: Well if unmasking the Golden State Killer is anything to go by, then I know that there were some victims who survived his onslaughts and I know that the closure that they have gotten from the investigative work that brought him to justice, there is some major closure involved.

The cold cases nowadays, through the kind of work that you do and the kind of work that forensic geologists do, and various branches of law enforcement and other scientific industries, there’s not cold case out there that can’t be solved these days.

We’ve talked about one today. I could talk about it all day, to be honest with you, Erik. But we’re coming up on time to close this down a little bit. It’s been a fascinating chat with you.

I know that our audience has probably been very interested and compelled about this case and how you’ve got to the bottom of it. Again, if anybody is interested in the case evidence and some of the other media and research that Tom Colbert and Erik and the team did, the website is dbcooper.com. I encourage people to go look at that.

Erik Kleinsmith: Actually the chart that we created is on that site.

Glynn Cosker: Great.

Erik Kleinsmith: So I mean, it is massive, but that’s on that site as well.

Glynn Cosker: That chart is very interesting to look at and I encourage our audience to go look at that too. So, Erik, I just want to say thank you for being with us today. It’s been a pleasure.

Erik Kleinsmith: Oh, thank you, Glynn.

Glynn Cosker: I hope that we can have you again as a guest in the future.

Erik Kleinsmith: As soon as I can come back and tell you something new, I will.

Glynn Cosker: All right, I’m going to hold you to that.

Erik Kleinsmith: All right.

Glynn Cosker: All right, thanks, Erik.

In this podcast episode, AMU criminal justice professor Jennifer Bucholtz discusses how genetic genealogy databases can help solve cold cases by identifying unknown DNA samples of both criminals and victims. Learn more about the challenges of using this advanced investigative technique and why it’s so important for law enforcement to educate the public about policies and procedures in order to alleviate privacy concerns.